The Science of Sustainability

The Pleasures of Backyard Bird-Watching

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Bird-watching forays into our beautiful East Bay Regional Parks are great, and I enjoy volunteering to watch the endangered California Least Terns in Alameda. I also love my backyard. It's filled with a changing kaleidoscope of wild neighbors I’ve gotten to know over the years, including some everyday urban birds and some breathtaking sightings. 

I've tried several methods of enhancing my local birding. Alameda already has lots of mature trees scattered over the island that provide great roosting and nesting areas. Seed-filled bird feeders brought in plenty of birds one winter until we developed a rat infestation.  We've had better luck improving the habitat for birds by replacing our lawns with more diverse native and drought-tolerant plants.  We now have more nectar plants, insects and habitat variety to support them.  Nearby palm trees provide nesting space for both Barn Owls and spectacular Hooded Orioles. The orioles migrate from Mexico and Central America to summer as far north as the Bay Area. They visit passionflower vines on our fence and steal nectar, inserting their beak at the base of the flower without pollinating it. Their distinctive calls ring through our neighborhood.

In our backyard ecosystem, we can watch a complete food web in action.  From the seed eaters, like Lesser Goldfinch gleaning Cosmos flower seeds, to California Towhees hopping in the leaf litter to find juicy insects.  There are even spectacular Cooper’s Hawk chases sometimes ending in birdy meals for the raptors.  I recorded one of these encounters in my Bay Island Nature blog.

These observations are valuable to scientists.  They rely on scores of us “Citizen Scientists” to collect data about our common and unusual local birds.  You can be part of this collaborative!  Projects range from committing 15 minutes of your time to devoting hours contributing to the body of knowledge about our avian friends.

This line-up of projects provides many choices for the beginner to expert birder.  You can view some of the data compiled into amazing bird species occurrence animated maps

Click on the species you’d like to see and watch as the map lights up as the year progresses and the birds migrate between their winter and breeding grounds.  You can even help Cornell’s eBird data collection website reach its 100 millionth entry, with a chance to win commemorative prizes.

Learn more about your local birds either through websites mentioned above or classes and programs offered by state, national, the East Bay Regional Parks and the Golden Gate Audubon Society as well as others. I hope you’ll join me in enjoying the world of feathers and flight!

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Category: Biology, Blog

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Sharol Nelson-Embry

About the Author ()

Sharol Nelson-Embry is the Supervising Naturalist at the Crab Cove Visitor Center & Aquarium on San Francisco Bay in Alameda. Crab Cove is part of the East Bay Regional Park District, one of the largest and oldest regional park agencies in the nation. She graduated from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo with a degree in Natural Resources Management and an epiphany that connecting kids with nature was her destiny. She's been rooted in the Bay Area since 1991 after working at nature centers and outdoor science schools around our fair state. She loves the great variety of habitats stretching from the Bay shoreline to the redwoods, lakes, and hills. Sharol enjoys connecting people to nature with articles in local newspapers and online forums. Read her previous contributions to QUEST, a project dedicated to exploring the Science of Sustainability.
  • nancygw

    We enjoy watching our back yard birds, especially our hummingbirds! I had no idea how territorial they were! They put on quite a show for us!

  • Cal Walters

    That's what I love about birding- I can literally do it anywhere from my back yard to The poles to the desert.

  • Issy

    We have started since my husband retired to encourage bees and various different insects. I bought a bird feeder and he loves watching them, we now have two hedgehogs that visit every night.

  • Sharol

    Issy, you must be an international reader with hedgehogs in your backyard! Birds are truly ambassadors without boundaries, bringing their beauty and good will to all who appreciate them!

    • Sharol

      …as Cal comments!